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European Union guarantees accompanied Hebron accord

THE HAGUE, Feb. 4 (JTA) — The United States is not the only country that provided letters of guarantees for the Hebron agreement. A letter of guarantees from the European Union also accompanied the accord, Palestinian Authority leader Yasser Arafat has disclosed. Arafat referred to the E.U. document during a joint news conference with Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok and Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo after the three held a two-hour meeting to discuss the Middle East peace process. Arafat told reporters Monday that the E.U. document, in which he said the organization’s 15 member-states committed themselves to ensuring the implementation of all signed Israeli-Palestinian agreements, was kept secret at Israel’s request. Until now, the only letters of guarantee known to have accompanied the Jan. 17 Hebron accord were those provided by the United States, which played a central role in bringing about the agreement on transferring most of the West Bank town to Palestinian self-rule. Arafat also told the news conference that he expected to announce the creation of a Palestinian state “in 1999” — presumably at the conclusion of the final-status talks, which are scheduled to end in May of that year. Israeli officials acknowledged the existence of the E.U. document. “The Europeans sent the letter unilaterally to the Palestinians,” said Gideon Mark, spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York. The guarantees, he added, are “not binding on anyone but the Europeans.” Mark had not seen the E.U. document, but said he believed that other Israeli officials had. He confirmed that the document contained a European commitment to supervise implementation of the Israeli-Palestinian accords, adding that it also pledged economic support to the Palestinian Authority. Levy visited the Netherlands last week, but there was no mention at the time of any E.U. letter of guarantees. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to visit the Netherlands next week. Van Mierlo, whose country holds the six-month rotating E.U. presidency until July, also confirmed the existence of the until-now undisclosed E.U. document, adding that it was requested by Arafat and ultimately agreed to by the Israeli government. Van Mierlo also said Israel had requested that it be kept secret, but added, “There is nothing that eventually does not come out in the open.” He added that the Israeli government had given up its long-standing opposition to an increased European role in the peace process, in which the United States now serves as chief mediator. But the foreign minister told reporters that Europe was not interested in a place at the negotiating table, leaving it unclear exactly what the expanded E.U. role would be. Arafat said of the European Union, which is the largest foreign donor to the Palestinian Authority, “a mere economic role for Europe would be unfair and impolite.” Arafat is scheduled to meet with the 15 E.U. foreign ministers Feb. 24 in Brussels, where he is expected to sign a cooperation accord between the European Union and the Palestinian Authority.